Student Competition: Why No One Wins When Everyone Wins

From participation trophies to the removal of valedictorians in some schools, it seems as if there is a general movement of society and educators toward limited student competition and awards. The sentiment that “everyone’s a winner” is progressing within the walls of schools, intending to not exclude any student or make them feel inferior.

While all students are indeed special and excel in their own ways, does that mean that students who succeed academically or in certain areas should not be acknowledged? Do we no longer categorize certain students as exceptional?

Below is a discussion of the reasons for minimizing student competition and the reasons why healthy competition may actually better our students.

The Reason to Minimize Competition

In the classroom setting, there are those who believe that facilitating competition among students will cause them to lose sight of the academic objectives. The focus will become more on winning than on learning.

By rewarding competitive performance, some leaders in education feel that the students will no longer focus as much on the subject matter or educational topic, and will instead focus strictly on the competitive aspect.

Other concerns arise when the competition becomes too intense and results in harm to the student. They are made to feel incompetent or like “losers.” A student’s self-worth becomes compromised as they find their identity in their losses. At this point, a student’s ambition or desire for learning is likely to be diminished as they feel as if it is all for nothing.

This type of downward spiral that many students experience when competition gets rough is part of the rationale behind rewarding all students and all achievements, rather than isolating specific achievers.

The Reason for Healthy Competition

If everyone is placed on a unilateral performance scale, then students may never be  motivated to challenge themselves. By creating opportunities for healthy competition, students are given a reason to try harder and to do better.

An otherwise average student, in terms of GPA, may be complacent and go through their academic career completely happy with their current grades. However, introduce the chance to win a scholarship to college or the opportunity to speak at graduation, and students have proven over time that this is a driving force to work harder to boost their GPA and class standings.

Another significant benefit to competition is the lessons students will learn from losing. It is okay if they are upset because they lose. What this will do is serve to teach that they don’t need to be afraid of losing—that at some point everyone goes through a loss. It’s what happens after the loss that matters. Students learn to take pride in knowing they did the best they could, challenge themselves to work harder next time, and even eventually learn to put themselves aside and congratulate the winner.

Po Bronson, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, addressed the topic of losing with KQED News. He says that the competition in schools helps push students and that going through the learning process of losing helps students realize it’s not that big of a deal to lose and teaches them to move on.

[Tweet ““If kids don’t learn to lose they’re going to feel entitled to win.” @PoBronson”]

If students have been taught all during childhood that “everyone’s a winner” and that all are equal when it comes to performance and talents, they will have never had the opportunity to identify and develop the skills they are best at. Not everyone excels in the academic arena, not everyone is athletic and a superstar out on the field, not everyone is a musical prodigy—all students have different areas where they will excel and should work to hone their talents. A corporate winning philosophy will never enable a student to determine what they are good at and what they are not and, therefore, may impede their potential life successes.

All of these are important life lessons that healthy student competition promotes. Competition exists in all areas of life and will continue as students get older. Whether it’s acceptance to college, job interviews, promotions, or even relationships, students will always find themselves in positions of having to try to achieve goals through competitive platforms.

As with everything related to children, individual personalities and characteristics should be considered. If a child is highly competitive and has gotten carried away in their lust for winning, perhaps a lesson in just having fun and doing their best is warranted. If a child is passive and disengaged in school, perhaps a little more motivation should be sparked through some healthy student competition.

Yes, all students are valued and all should be celebrated. However, by making everyone a winner we take away the value of what it means to win or achieve success and negate the hard work that students put into accomplishing those goals.

What are your thoughts on student competition? Should schools encourage competition among students, or should we continue down the path of neutralizing awards?

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